Bill Stewart is starting to get the message.
The road to victory in college football is on the ground.
That’s not idle chatter, nor is it a knee-jerk reaction to an unexpected home loss to Syracuse, 19-14, on Saturday that came with the Orange stopping West Virginia on the ground while chewing up chunks of yardage themselves.
Good, old-fashion research says that you get outrushed in a game, you lose the game.
Not every time, of course, but far more often than Stewart and his offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen would like to believe.
To see if this theory that grew out of a lifetime of watching Jim Brown and Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams and Ernie Davis and Gale Sayers and Herschel Walker carry the football was wrong, I wanted to prove it and so I turned to the stat sheets from Saturday’s Division I-A games.
Checking the games played in the ACC, Big 12, Big 10, Big East, SEC, Pac-10, Conference USA, Mid-American Conference, WAC and Mountain West, along with the independent game between Notre Dame and Navy produced a record that even surprised me.
The team that rushed for the most yardage won 37 games and lost five … one of those five being, of course, Syracuse’s upset of the Mountaineers.
That is an 88.1 winning percentage.
The five teams that outgained their opponent and lost were Northwestern, which almost pulled off a stunning upset of nationally ranked Michigan State; Boston College, which had nothing to be proud of with 96 yards rushing while losing to a Maryland team that could rush for 43 yards; Georgia Tech, which squandered 242 rushing yards while losing to Clemson, who recorded 236 rushing yards of its own; Eastern Michigan, which rushed for 290 yards against BCS conference opponent Virginia while losing, and the Mountaineers.
The fact is that only 10 out of 42 teams in those games surveyed who rushed for 150 yards lost while only 12 teams that didn’t rush for 150 yards won.
Now we understand that often a team will run the clock out and add to its rushing total after a game is in hand, which bends the figures some, but the truth is that the way to play winning football is to run the ball.
When outgained on the ground this year WVU is 0-2, and it hasn’t been that the other teams have run all over them, they’ve just run enough to establish some kind of control while keeping the Mountaineer running game in check.
It was little different last year, too, WVU being outgained on the ground in three of its four losses, although there probably needs to be asterisk in that the Mountaineers did rush for more than 200 yards themselves in three of the defeats.
As we noted earlier, it appears that Stewart is getting the message, however.
In his Sunday postmortem, Stewart hinted that he may put emphasis on the running game and might even include his quarterback, Geno Smith, as a ball carrier.
In discussing the problems the offense was having, he mentioned that his team was trying to do a great many things on offense and wasn’t consistently getting them accomplished. When asked if maybe they were trying to so much that when they got in trouble they had nothing to fall back upon that they believed was a sure-fire cure.
“I just don’t see consistency,” Stewart said. “That’s as calm and honest as I can answer that question. Are we masters of any one particular thing? No. We have to get better. If we put a little more on the quarterbacks legs instead of his arm, maybe we will get better.”
That would seem to indicate running Smith more than he had and when asked to clarify that, Stewart phrased his answer carefully.
“Geno is certainly talented. Whether or not we do that remains to be seen at this time. You love to have a running quarterback. That adds to the staple. We need to run the ball a little bit better. Hopefully we can do that. We’ll continue to work on that,” he said.
If he doesn’t do it with Smith, would he use his jumbo package that includes fullbacks Ryan Clarke and/or Matt Lindamood more in the offense?
He would not commit to that, especially if it cost Noel Devine time.
“Noel did play very well,” he said of the running back who broke loose with 122 rushing yards against Syracuse. “He did not make a couple of guys miss. Did they make nice tackles? I have to say, yes.”
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bill Stewart is starting to get the message.
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